Monday, March 18, 2013
Bonkers Over Buddha
42-year-old Antony Ratcliffe, a former infection control officer for the ambulance service and amateur photographer, was stopped as he tried to leave Bandaranaike International Airport during a 12-hour stop-over en route from London to Malaysia. He says the "inoffensive" body art was meant as a tribute.
Despite having a valid two-day tourist visa, Ratcliffe said he was frogmarched to a detention area after immigration officials spotted the Buddha's head tattoo poking out from the sleeve of his T-shirt. "As soon as he saw it the chief officer went crazy. You could see it on his face, he looked really angry and said I would have to go back to London," Ratcliffe told reporters. "They took my passport and held me there for an hour and a half. All the time they were bringing people in to look at my arm, and they were shaking their heads. Eventually, Ratcliffe was allowed to continue his journey to Kuala Lumpur, but faced further questioning when he landed.
Last year, three French tourists were given suspended prison sentences for taking photographs that showed them pretending to kiss a statue of Buddha at a temple. In 2010, the American R&B star Akon was refused a visa after protests over one of his music videos, which featured scantily-clad women dancing in front of a statue of Buddha.
Travelers to Sri Lanka are warned that the mistreatment of Buddhist images and artifacts is a serious offense and that they shouldn't pose for photographs by standing in front of a statue of Buddha.